Advent 2019

Advent 2019: Angels

By Jamie Harms

My husband cracks me up because, when he has good news to share, his mom and I are always the first to know. Usually the first one to hear depends on which one of us picks up our phone first. Whether it is news that a grant has been funded, a paper has been accepted, a speaking invitation has been extended, or a friend/colleague is coming to town, my husband is the messenger of good news to his mom and me.  

Angels were the messengers of good news that first Christmas night. Their message on that hillside was loud and clear — Christ our Messiah is here! The shepherds were recorded as the first to worship the Messiah, and as they went out from the manger, so did the message. Word began to spread, as did the hope that the Messiah was finally here.   

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is when the old priest Simeon sees the fulfillment of that message as Jesus is dedicated at the temple. He holds the Christ child in his arms, declaring, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 

The message was amazing. Jesus came as God in the flesh for our salvation, so the Gentiles might know Him. He would be the glory and treasured possession of His people. That is a message worthy of declaring to every corner of the earth! 

Angel Candle: As you light the angel candle today, read Luke 2:22-32 and sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” remembering and proclaiming the good news that the angels brought — Christ our Messiah is here!

Luke 2:22-32

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King! 
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled.” 
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, 
Join the triumph of the skies; 
With th’ angelic host proclaim, 
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.” 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King! 

Christ, by highest heaven adored: 
Christ, the everlasting Lord; 
Late in time behold him come, 
Offspring of the favoured one. 
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; 
Hail, th’incarnate Deity: 
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, 
Jesus, our Emmanuel! 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King! 

Hail! the heaven-born Prince of peace! 
Hail! the Son of Righteousness! 
Light and life to all he brings, 
Risen with healing in his wings 
Mild he lays his glory by, 
Born that man no more may die: 
Born to raise the son of earth, 
Born to give them second birth. 
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!”

— Geoff Haynes

Advent 2019: Shepherds

By Jamie Harms

Have you ever waited for something expectantly? I remember as a child waiting along with all my siblings and cousins for Christmas morning. All month we enjoyed the lights and the music and watched the beautifully decorated gifts appear under the tree. On Christmas Eve, we would all crawl into our sleeping bags at my aunt’s house so excited for the next morning. However, we could not just get up and dive into the presents. We had to wait. We would wake up early and wait for my uncle to finish brewing the coffee before he would patter down the hallway to turn on Manhiem Steamroller’s Christmas album, beckoning us all into the living room for our Christmas celebration complete with the presents.  

The shepherds on that original Christmas night were waiting for something, too. They grew up under the oppression of the Romans as they awaited their Messiah. He was coming to set them free. They went about their daily tasks hoping that the day for the Messiah to appear would come soon. Then one night as they tended to the sheep, a whole sky full of angels heralded Christ’s coming to them first. The least of these in the Israelite community were the first to know that the Messiah was here! Not only did they hear about His arrival first, they had the joy of worshiping Him face-to-face.  

I can only imagine how filled with joy the shepherds were knowing that the Messiah was here. Part of their joy came from the hope that they would be saved from Rome in their lifetime. However, God had something bigger in mind, even if they did not understand it at the time. He was not going to save them from the Romans like they had wanted but was going to save them from their sin, so they could be free from fear no matter who was in power. Often we find ourselves in a similar situation. We find joy in our Savior and expect that means He will save us from our circumstances. Instead He is Emmanuel — God with us — in our circumstances. Many of us struggle to find joy during the Christmas season because life does not look like what we think it should, much like the shepherds might have struggled not being freed from the heavy hand of Rome. Yet, despite the brokenness in our own hearts and the world around us, Christ our Messiah is with us and redeeming the broken, so one day when He comes again, all will be made right. May we cling to the joy that comes from the hope we have in our Emmanuel.

Shepherd’s Candle: As you light the Shepherd’s candle today, read Luke 2:8-20 and sing “While Shepherds Watched Their Flock,” remembering that our joy is found in our God, who is with us in any circumstance and is coming again to make all things whole.

This Week’s Reading and Singing

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,  and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind; “Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be the sign:

“The heav’nly Babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swathing bands, and in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith appeared a shining throng of angels praising God on high, who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high, and to the Earth be peace; Good will henceforth from heav’n to men begin and never cease!”

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” by Nahum Tate

Advent 2019: Bethlehem

By Jamie Harms

When I was in middle school, we took care of a little boy, who had lost his mama. He and his dad became like family, practically living at our house following her death as we helped take care of the little boy during the day and often into the evening. We folded these two into family events and traditions, including at holidays. One Christmas season at the age of 3 or 4 this little boy, as he was playing with our nativity set underneath the Christmas tree, stopped and turned to my mom, saying, “I know why Jesus was born in a stable. If Jesus were born in a palace, then the shepherds could not come to visit Him.” He then bounded away to the next thing without saying anything more. From the lips of babes, this little boy uncovered a great truth about where Jesus was born. Jesus could have been born in Jerusalem at a palace heralding Himself king, but that was not His heart. Our little friend was right. If Christ had been born in a palace in Jerusalem, the shepherds could not have visited Him and worshiped Him. Instead, God chose to become flesh in the small, insignificant town of Bethlehem, where angels where His heralds and shepherds, wise foreign kings, and others could all come to worship Him. God wanted all of humankind to be able to come to Him, to see Him, to know Him, and to worship Him. Hence, He was born in a borrowed space to a young single mama in an insignificant town that all could access and would forever be known as the place where our God came to abide with us — all of us. For this we celebrate today.  

Today, on this second Sunday of Advent, we light the Bethlehem Candle.

Bethlehem Candle: As you light the Bethlehem Candle today, read Micah 5:2-5 and sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” remembering that you can know and worship Jesus Christ, who is our peace and light in this dark world.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

Micah 5:2-5

O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie;
above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by:
yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting Light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
and peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still,
the dear Christ enters in.

O holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in;
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

By Lewis Redner

Advent 2019: Hope

By Jamie Harms

Around this time every year as the dark evenings come earlier and earlier, we see fir trees decorated with sparkling ornaments pop up in living room windows, hear bellringers as we enter stores, and spot beautifully wrapped gifts displayed all over town. Music is played everywhere to brightening the mood. Coats and gloves are worn by those walking down the street, and glittering lights adorn roof lines. All indicate that something is coming. As soon as we see these signs, we know that the Christmas season is upon us. We wait in eager expectation for Christmas to be here.

It is easy to get swept up in all the hubbub of the season and miss that Christmas is the celebration of our Emmanuel come in the flesh, and that He is coming again. It was not until I was an adult and living in Baltimore that I was introduced to a liturgical advent. Advent means coming, and the whole point is intentionally looking for the one coming. Instead of Christmas trees and gifts, liturgical advent celebrations include a wreath with five candles — one candle lit each of the four Sundays before Christmas and the fifth on Christmas morning.  

As each candle is lit, part of the Christmas story is read, and Christmas carols are sung to remind us of who Jesus is and why He came. The first Sunday focuses on the hope of His coming and is called the prophecy candle. Verses from Isaiah are read and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is sung.  

The second Sunday picks up the story with the Bethlehem candle, emphasizing Christ’s birth and the faith that we have in Him. The shepherd candle is the third candle and continues the story with the shepherds in the fields as they hear the proclamations of Jesus’ birth and experience the joy of the news that their Messiah has come. 

The angel’s message is emphasized again with the fourth candle — the angel candle — remembering the peace that can only come with being united with our Messiah. The final candle that is lit Christmas morning is the Christ candle, for He is the embodiment of hope, faith, joy, and peace told of all month! The liturgical advent is a very tangible way to participate in the waiting for the coming of Christ.

At UFC, we do not have wreaths and candles to tell the Christmas story, but that does not mean we cannot intentionally find ways to prepare our hearts for the advent our Christ’s coming both 2000 years ago in a stable and His future coming as a king. Celebrating advent can be as simple as reading through the Christmas story in a kid’s Bible and acting it out with a nativity set, or making mugs of hot chocolate and reading through Luke 2 as a family. Some people set up a Jesse tree and hang ornaments that tell the story of Christ’s coming, while still others sing through Christmas carols with friends and pray together. Advent books abound to remind us to take time each day and remember whose arrival we are awaiting. The season of remembering doesn’t have to be elaborate or perfect. It’s simply a slowing as the anticipation builds for His coming!

I invite you to join me on Sundays here on this blog as we celebrate together this advent season. Today we pause to celebrate anticipation and hope. The prophets of old foretold the coming Messiah as His people clung to the hope that He would indeed come and deliver them just like He faithfully did from Egypt. For hundreds of years, God’s people waited, watching for their Messiah — their Emmanuel, God with us. Then one day, God in human flesh made Himself known to His people being born of a virgin. So, today, we remember the hope we have in the coming Christ as we light the first candle of Advent.

The Prophecy Candle

Reading: The book of Isaiah is one of the places in the Old Testament that tells of the coming Messiah, highlighting the character and actions of the expected one. Spend some time reflecting on the character of our Messiah as He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;

you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

as with joy at the harvest,

as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,

and the staff for his shoulder,

the rod of his oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

O come, O come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

O come, Thou, Dayspring from on high

And cause Thy light on us to rise

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, O come, true prophet of the Lord

And turn the key to heaven’s door

Be Thou our comforter and guide

And lead us to the Father’s side

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall by His word our darkness dispel

O come, our great High Priest, and intercede

Thy sacrifice, our only plea

The judgment we no longer fear

Thy precious blood has brought us near

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Has banished every fear of hell

O Come, Thou King of nations bring

An end to all our suffering

Bid every pain and sorrow cease

And reign now as our Prince of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come again with us to dwell

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel